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Free Study Guide for Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin BookNotes

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BLACK LIKE ME - FREE ONLINE STUDY NOTES / ANALYSIS

 

AUTHOR'S STYLE

The book is an autobiographical diary. It is written in the first person and recounts the experiences of the author, first hand. Hence the language is very vivid and moving. The author powerfully etches not just his dramatic transformation into a Negro to his very entrails, but also the dim and dismal, yet raucous and boisterous, as well as courteous and generous world of the Negro ghetto.

In addition, through equally powerful strokes of his pen, he also sketches the elegant and affluent world of the white man, which is also very cruel and hateful, lustful and criminal. His description of Nature and the environment is very memorable.


SYMBOLISM / IMAGERY / SYMBOLS


The book begins with symbolism, as the author depicts the tender night as symbolic of the blackness as also the tenderness of the Negro. He quotes the words of a poem to describe these qualities: --

"Night coming tenderly
Black Like me."


IMAGERY / SYMBOLISM


The book is rich in imagery. The reader can almost hear the sounds, shouts and songs of life in the black ghetto -- the music from the juke box, with its grinding rhythm, echoing down the street -- music which consumes in its loud rhythm all other rhythms, even that of the heartbeat. Music to drown the sorrows.

Then there is the vivid, visual imagery of life in the affluent white section of town. The author’s description of his Last Supper as a white man, before his transformation into a Negro is unforgettable. How he dines in style for the last time in a superb courtyard under the stars, with lanterns, trees, candle lit tables and a little fountain, surrounded by elegant waiters, elegant people and elegant food.

Another powerful image is that of the monastery the author visits, where he feels the very crust of his life fall away in the deep hush of eternity. He sharply sketches the deep peace and quiet inside, in contrast to the violence and terror outside.

The book ends with a powerful image as well. The author is clearing up his office before he leaves for Mexico. He not only describes his barren, empty office stripped of all its furniture and contents, but the scene also reflects his own emptiness.


CONTRAST


The book is filled with innumerable contrasts the author encounters and experiences, especially as he zigzags between being black and white. When he is a Negro he is scorned or ignored by the whites, but warmly welcomed by the blacks. Meanwhile, when he is white he is avoided by the blacks but kindly received by the whites. There are even contrasts during the course of one day or night, when in the same skin. One moment the author meets a rabid white racist and the next minute a sensitive one.


Another time he meets a friendly Negro and a moment later a fearful one. Then there are contrasts in the scenes as well; from the din and clutter of the gutter and ghetto to the quiet and peace of a church, from the violence of the night to the silence of the monastery.


HUMOR


There is quite some humor in the book, even though the context of the book is very deep and serious. Sometimes the humor is almost black humor as the trials and both whites and even blacks with a sense of humor laugh at tribulations of the blacks.

One such piece of humor is when East recounts how a black man who goes to register himself as a voter is asked such ludicrous questions by a white interviewer that he is denied registration. Another example is when the author asks a Negro acquaintance where he can find a church and toilet and he is told that most times he will find himself in church praying to find a toilet.


STUDY QUESTIONS

1. Why has the author titled his book, Black Like Me"?

2. Do you think the book deserved the 1962 Saturday Review Award?

3. The book is a moving and troubling autobiography. Explain.

4. The book is a blunt and brilliant report on white racism. Discuss.

5. The book’s depiction of the Negroes is inspirational. Explain.

6. The author meets many sensitive and sensible whites. Discuss.

7. Do you consider the book a hopeless tragedy? Discuss.

8. Describe the historical and political period of the book.

 

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